Cause of mysterious near-fainting episodes finally solved

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Lisa Rotter walks around her hometown of Franklin, Michigan.

A dizzy feeling comes over her without warning. Then, the nausea sets in. Beads of sweat form on her forehead. All she can do is lay down and wait for the symptoms to pass.

Lisa Rotter, a 56-year-old volunteer from Franklin, documented every time it happened. 

Neither she, nor her doctor, could figure out what caused these episodes. 

“I used to be a big walker. During one of my walks, I had to sit down and couldn’t get back up. My friend left me on someone’s lawn and had to come back with a car to pick me up,” Rotter said. 

The fear of these episodes made her feel trapped and unable to do things she loved in her Franklin neighborhood, like gardening. 

“I thought I might have diabetes because I had sweating and fainting symptoms. Sometimes, I would eat sugar hoping to feel better. I would also make up excuses like I didn’t eat enough or I ate too much,” she said.

A friend recommended making an appointment with Beaumont cardiologist Pamela Marcovitz, M.D.

After an examination, Dr. Marcovitz ordered a few tests on Rotter’s heart. Then, she asked her to lie down and strapped Rotter in for a “tilt table” test. After about 15 minutes of lying flat, the table tilts up to simulate going from lying down to standing up.

Dr. Marcovitz and a tilt table at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak

“I passed out during the test,” Rotter said. “I was freaked out, but I was also relieved to know what was wrong with me.”

Rotter learned she had vasovagal syncope, a condition that causes her heart rate and blood pressure to drop suddenly. As a result, blood flow to her brain decreases and causes her to lose consciousness.

“The condition is quite treatable,” Dr. Marcovitz said. “I could see the relief in Lisa’s eyes when I explained my diagnosis to her.”

Dr. Marcovitz prescribed lifestyle changes and medication. Then, she worked with Rotter to refine the dosage to one that worked best for Rotter’s body. 

Now, she can garden, exercise and walk around her neighborhood without worrying about passing out. 

“Gardening was such a big part of my life. I had to give that up for years. Now, I look forward to the warmer weather. It gives me such pleasure to be able to be back doing what I love,” Rotter said.